Here’s one of my favourite images from the trip up to the arctic last month, and a quick walk-through on the post-processing. In Vision & Voice I explain what I call the vision-driven workflow, and there are 4 steps: Identify Intent, Minimize Distractions, Maximize Mood, and Direct the Eye.
Identifying the intent here was simply a matter of asking myself what it was that most drew me to this scene, and then figuring out how to make the post-processing support that. While the colours in the arctic were amazing, it was the shapes and textures, the lines, of this scene that most drew me, so I knew it would be a black and white image. That’s my first move. Then, moving on to minimize the distractions, I cropped a little from the bottom to remove the errant bush, and spend 5 minutes dealing with dust spots. I work best when I am un-distracted by little flaws. Below is the black and white, cropped and dusted image.
My next move is to maximize the mood, which in this case will be a graduated filter across the sky, pulling the exposure down and adding clarity, which brings the subtle drama back to the sky (below). The best way to see these changes, by the way, is to click one of these images and let it enlarge itself. You can then scroll through, image by image, and see the changes more obviously.
The strength of a black and white image lies in its tonal contrast, which can be tweaked several ways, including the use of colour temp and tint sliders, the Black & White Mix panel, and the tone curve. Below you’ll see the mix change a little as I darken the blues and lighten the yellows, bringing some of the contrast back in the grasses of the muskeg around the lake, and punching the sky a little more.
Lastly, in terms of my process, I make changes that direct the eye. In this case a little dodge and burn in the clouds to both lighten the whisps and darken the space between those whisps of cloud (below).
If you want to hone your post-processing skills, the best thing you can do is play with your tools – in my case it’s Lightroom 4. Play with them until you understand them. You can get Vision & Voice online at amazon.com or Barnes and Noble, etc., and while it was written for Lightroom 3, it still has much to say about the process of post-processing. If you want more info on black and white conversions in Lightroom, I can’t think of a better, or cheaper, resource, than Piet van Den Eynde’s The Power of Black and White from Craft & Vision.
I know this was a fast walk-through, and it probably leaves a few questions. Fire away.